Comparing Washington and California Merlot over Dinner #MerlotMe

Does It Matter Where Your Merlot is Grown?
When it comes to Merlot, my personal favorites are from the Right Bank in Bordeaux. During our annual October month-long  #MerlotMe celebration,  I sample a variety of Merlot wines from California and Washington (master post is here). Generalizations are always difficult as there are plenty of counter examples; however, if I have a taste for a certain style of Merlot-based wine, are there some general tendencies based on where the wine comes from?

Right Bank is rolling countryside. Soils are limestone and clay. The climate is cooler, and Cabernet does not reliably ripen, so the main grape is usually Merlot.

Bordeaux – Compared to its’ American counterparts, Bordeaux is cooler and wetter. Being close to the Atlantic ocean, it has a Maritime climate, so it rains year round in Bordeaux. Right Bank wines are certainly more generous than their Left Bank (Cabernet Sauvignon is the dominant grape) counterparts, but they aren’t usually as fruit-forward as New World versions.

Duckhorn Three Palms Vineyard

Warm Mediterranean climate, palm trees will grow in Napa Valley at Duckhorn’s Three Palms Vineyard

California – Sunny, Mediterranean climate. Long growing season, with warm summers and virtually no rain during the growing season. The climate encourages lush, rich wines. Duckhorn Vineyards is a long time proponent of the Merlot grape in Napa Valley. Even through Merlot’s tough times, they never gave up and grafted over to the easy choice of Cabernet Sauvignon (although they also grow plenty of that grape).

The Walla Walla, Washington Skyline.

Washington – Shorter season, but nice warm sunny days with cool evenings. The vineyards are all east of the Cascade mountains, so again, there is virtually no rain during the growing season. Summer days offer more sunlight hours due to more northerly location. Still 100% American and typically plenty ripe, however just a bit less plush than those farther south. Novelty Hill – Januik Winery provides the Washington Merlot for our comparison.

Disclosure: The wines in this post were provided as samples. No other payment was involved and all opinions are mine.

Duckhorn Napa Valley Merlot

Duckhorn Napa Valley Merlot

Duckhorn Vineyards Napa Valley Merlot 2015 (sample $56 SRP or online here)
Eye: Clear, deep ruby with a garnet edge. Lightly stained ruby legs
Nose: Clean, medium intensity. Fruit and vanilla oak notes are at the front. Fruit is ripe cherry and black cherry, followed by vanilla, with a bit of mushroom and leather in the background. Fruit is the dominant note in the aroma.
Mouth: Dry, medium+ intensity in the flavors. Lush texture with medium acidity, medium- tannins providing nice balance, with high alcohol (14.5%). Lush, ripe black cherries are in front lingering into a medium+ length finish. Good with food, this wine stands nicely on its’ own. While the lush Napa Valley style isn’t my usual pick, this wine is undeniably delicious.

Januik Columbia Valley Merlot

Januik Columbia Valley Merlot

Januik Columbia Valley Merlot 2015 (sample $25 SRP or online here)
Eye: Clear, deep garnet with a garnet edge. Barely stained garnet legs.
Nose: Clean, medium intensity. Ripe black cherry, blackberry with a bit of raisin and figs. Rich ripe nose, with a touch of vanilla far in the background.
Mouth: Dry, medium+ intensity flavors. Rich texture with medium acidity, medium+ tannins, medium+ body and high alcohol (14.4%). Flavors lean more to the ripe black cherry, blackberry, no real raisins or figs in the flavor.  Medium+ finish of black cherry fruit with a bit of astringency.

Duckhorn Napa Valley Merlot, Januik Columbia Valley Merlot and a chicken sheet pan dinner

Washington or California; you can’t lose pairing Merlot with a fall flavored sheet pan dinner

California and Washington Merlot Paired with a Fall Themed Chicken Sheet Pan Dinner
Earthy fall flavors of squash, mushrooms and curly kale all roasted together pair beautifully with a deep, rich red wine. Both the wines were delicious with the meal.

Fall Inspired Sheet Pan Chicken

Sheet pan chicken and vegetables makes for a great weeknight dinner. Simply turn on the oven, prep the ingredients, and pop the pan in the oven. There are lots of variations on this theme, I like the squash and mushrooms as great pairings with red wine.


  • 2 medium delicata squash, halved lengthwise, seeded, and sliced into 1/2″ half-moon slices
  • 16 oz. mushrooms of your choice. I like baby bella mushrooms, buy ’em pre-sliced on a weeknight
  • 1.5 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 2 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO)
  • Chopped fresh sage, thyme and rosemary if you have them, otherwise 1 Tbsp Herbs de Provence
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper as needed


  • Pre-heat the oven to 425 F
  • Toss the squash and sliced mushrooms with 2 Tbsp EVOO, toss in the herbs with a light application of salt and pepper
  • Spread the veggies out on 1 or 2 large baking sheets
  • Toss the chicken pieces with 1 Tbsp EVOO and lightly salt and pepper, place around the sheet pans.
  • Roast for 20 minutes, mix and stir the ingredients a bit and rotate the pan if needed
  • Roast another 20 minutes or until the chicken reads 165 F internal temperature.
  • Plate and enjoy!

Duckhorn Napa Valley Merlot and Januik Columbia Valley Merlot

4 Responses to “Comparing Washington and California Merlot over Dinner #MerlotMe”
  1. I love squash and merlot — and this sheet pan dinner sounds super easy too so you can relax and enjoy the wine! Loved the comparisons of the different regions– thanks– good info!

  2. winencsy says:

    I love your description of the wines, I can almost imagine which one I would love more. Thanks for the useful infos about the regions as well!
    WinEncsy –

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